How to Turn Referrals Into New Business: Let Marketing Tell Your Story

in Columns/Marketing

By STEPHANIE WOODCOCK

Stephanie Woodcock

As an architectural, engineering, or construction (A/E/C) company, how do you acquire business? Some common answers I’ve heard are through “trust, longevity, relationship, price, expertise and quality.”

I’ve also heard the following: “I don’t need marketing, because most of our business comes from referrals.” In fact, if I had a nickel for every time I heard this, I would be at least a few dollars richer. Companies who rely on their referral business and expertise or longevity in the industry may assume that they don’t need to market. But, the very nature of A/E/C company referrals has changed, and it has significant implications on a B2B marketing strategy.

According to a study conducted by a large marketing firm that surveyed professional services companies, more than 81.5 percent of these B2B companies have received a referral from someone who was not a client.  (Source: https://hingemarketing.com/library/article/referral-marketing-for-professional-services-firms)

There are three types of referral business:

  • Experience-based referrals
  • Reputation-based referrals
  • Expertise-based referrals

Most A/E/C companies are familiar with experience-based referrals. This type comes from direct business such as clients and professional partners. The vast majority of referrals, however, come from people you don’t know. They either recommend your company because they know your area of expertise, or they know you by reputation and know someone who has heard of you.

The key is to capture more of these last two groups of non-client referrals with a strong marketing strategy. In the A/E/C industry, 20 solid relationships will get you farther than 1,000 contacts. Why risk the possibility of not gaining a Top 10 customer because of lack of foresight in your marketing strategy? If 81.5 percent of our referrals are people who have not been our clients, we need marketing materials, brand presence and a digital identity to grab their attention.

How do we convert referrals to new business?

According to the same B2B company study, 51.9 percent of respondents ruled out referrals before they even spoke with the firm in question. While there is a detailed list of reasons the prospect dismissed the referral, the top reason, cited by 43.6 percent of respondents, was a lack of clarity about the provider’s services, expertise or capabilities. Other top reasons included inadequate marketing materials, insufficient clarity or overemphasis on selling rather than education.

Not only are we getting referrals from people we haven’t directly done business with; of those being referred to us, one-half of them are potentially not being converted into business because of a lack of marketing.

Maybe I should give my nickels back. If most of your business relies on referrals, you should be most concerned about marketing to the “low hanging fruit” you’ve worked so hard to attain through your reputation, expertise and experience.

You may let me keep my nickels, because I’m going to save you money with the following list. Of all the bells and whistles available through marketing agencies, here are my top four marketing strategies for B2B companies in the A/E/C space:

1) Content Marketing

Become the expert. Write blogs and newsletter articles. Speak at events. Attend association events. Set yourself up as the authority in your specialized field and watch the referral business come in. Get the word out through press releases, email marketing, social media, event marketing and association involvement.

This is how you help build reputation referrals. By using content marketing in conjunction with the rest of the tactics in this list, you can build a brand with a widespread reputation for your specialty and a greater understanding of your expertise, even among audiences that haven’t worked with you directly.

2) Consistent Website Presence and Marketing

Gone are the days that your website can be a “brochure website.” Eighty percent of buyers look at company’s website to check you out. New people are looking at your site for credibility factors, to see what you do, to find you through search tools, etc. Prospects want to find new content, a responsive website that answers their questions, one that is user friendly and stays up-to-date. Continually update and maintain your site with new blogs, white papers, landing pages, images and social media posts. Having a dynamic online presence that shares the expertise of your key professionals is the key to generating expertise-based referrals.

3) Creative Branding Strategy

Beyond your digital presence and white papers, you need ongoing creative branding and marketing campaigns that resonate with the customer base. This is the fun part of marketing. Introduce a new campaign around a theme that your customer base will appreciate. You need brand recognition, but you also need to make it fun. Keep your message consistent but interesting. This kind of brand recognition can lead to referrals and new business. 

4) Get Face-to-Face

Establishing a robust marketing strategy and digital presence does not mean we can vanish from being face-to-face with our customer base. You need to be at industry events, representing your brand, pressing the flesh and giving a face to the great reputation that is gaining you all those referrals.

Trust, longevity, relationship, price, expertise and quality are all admirable qualities with which to build a good company. How do we transform a good company to a great company? Good to Great Author Jim Collins says the secret ingredient is the discipline to do whatever it takes to become the best within carefully selected arenas, and then to seek continual improvement from there. Collins also says managing your problems can only make you good, whereas building your opportunities is the only way to become great.

The great companies that really stand the test of time and stand out to their customers are the ones who learn to tell their story. Your opportunity lies in how your story is told. Marketing helps tell your story. Marketing creatively outlines the specialties, expertise and reputation a company has in a way that resonates with customers, referrals and prospects. Your marketing message helps clarify why your company is great – and not just good – and gives substance to the words trust, expertise and quality. It’s worth a nickel or two.

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